Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, briefs reporters at the Pentagon, May 23, 2012. (Photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)
WASHINGTON (May 23, 2012) — The commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan candidly told reporters today his assessment will largely set the course for operations there after the drawdown of U.S. surge forces and before the end of NATO’s combat role in 2014.
“I owe the president some real analysis on this. We’re going to need combat power; I don’t think anyone questions that,” Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, International Security Assistance Force commander, told reporters at the Pentagon.
Allen said significant events will occur in Afghanistan this summer, including the withdrawal of some troops, reposturing the battle space, inserting advisors, and moving Afghan forces increasingly into the lead.
“We’ve got about 30 months left on the campaign, 31 months or so,” the commander said. “The ANSF has yet to be fully recruited. It’ll be done soon, but the deadline on it was 1 October.”
The general noted Afghan army and police numbers have grown over the past year from 276,000 to 340,000, and they will reach their full strength ahead of the scheduled deadline in October.
After the 23,000 remaining U.S. “surge” troops leave Afghanistan by the end of September, Allen said, he will take “a very hard look” at the state of the insurgency, the Afghan forces’ success in planning and leading combat operations, and the operational environment he anticipates in 2013.
“The aggregation of those factors will generate ultimately an assessment of what U.S. and non-U.S. ISAF combat power I’ll need … to continue the process of moving the ANSF into the lead in ‘13 and ‘14 and giving them the kind of support that they need so that they’ll be successful,” he said.
“We’re going to make that analysis in the aftermath of the fighting season and the recovery of the 23,000 troops,” the general added.
Afghan forces augmented by International Security Assistance Force advisory teams will fill in as NATO troops thin out, the general said.
“While, in absolute terms, eventually our numbers come down, it is not our intention to cede the ground … to the Taliban,” he said.
Afghan forces will concentrate in the eastern and southwestern areas of Afghanistan to maintain security gains in the hardest-fought areas, Allen said.
At the Chicago NATO summit that ended Monday, coalition members noted the ISAF commander will regularly assess operational conditions and the capability of Afghan forces, Allen said.
“Right now we’re planning every six months, so that we can adapt our plan ultimately for the final size and structure of the [Afghan army and police forces] in the post-2014 period as conditions require,” he added.
Allen said NATO’s campaign in Afghanistan has been long, difficult and costly, but he believes it is on track.
“I see it every day – tangible evidence of progress,” he said. “And we’re making a difference. We’re fulfilling the Lisbon road map of transition, and the international community is standing with the noble people of Afghanistan and Afghanistan now and into the decade of transformation.”